Ten years ago, the basketball world watched a player by the name of Anthony Davis reap the rewards of Guard skills in a Post body. All too often, adolescent players are labeled and locked into positions determined largely by their height and handles. Davis is a beneficiary of an uncommon idea known as Positionless Basketball. Now a SuperStar of the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers, The Brow is showcasing the skills he acquired at a young age. In hindsight, he was fortunate a well-timed [belated] growth spurt did not jeopardize his development.
Despite many beliefs, particularly at the youth level, basketball is not solely about wins and losses. In fact, many well-respected coaches in the profession at all levels would argue that the result of games is of marginal value until a player begins competing for a junior high or high school team. For those that rank Teaching over Titles, Growth is the Goal. With that being said, I would suggest the way a player is asked to play can determine how good he/she becomes. Had Anthony Davis been the tallest player on each of the teams he grew up competing within his adolescent years, the likelihood of his coach(es) positioning him near the basket as a Post-Up-Rebounder would have been considerable. He would be a different player today.
Basketball development should be built on the idea that (1) it is a simple game (2) that relies on not just skills, but the application of those skills. One must score more than the opponent to win a game. This part is simple. As you increase the number of players that have the ability to score in a variety of different ways, the odds of winning improve. Many college-level coaches and professionals are heralded for their systems. But no offensive system is undefeated, they don’t get recruited, and they fight for consistency year-after-year as the revolving door of unique genetic combinations on the roster changes each season. Instead, long-term success emerges when many skilled players are able to synchronize within a simplistic style of play.
Offensively, players do not progress (or win) with the primary purpose of “running offense.” The objective is to score. By creating skilled basketball players, systems lose their significance. Great players can play and perform in any system, but not just any player can play and perform in a great system. The player should be the priority and providing a safe environment where knowledge of game skills is passed on and polished regularly is the precedence.
Defensively, I have heard it said in a Division-I recruiting meeting that a player is only listed at the position he/she is able to guard. Growing up, Anthony Davis inevitably learned to guard on the perimeter. Now, his versatility to guard any position on the court allows him and his teammates to switch roles. Davis has shown that he can even lockup point guards on a consistent basis. This again confirms that all elements of basketball are an integration of skills and players must be multifaceted in order to successfully compete in today’s style of play.
In 2009, Anthony Davis likely looked in the mirror and saw a 6-foot-3 guard in search of a college scholarship. At the time, Davis was a common name with a common basketball frame. As a high school ball player with hoop dreams, I’m confident the uncertainty of his playing career beyond high school was a difficult burden for him to bear. But soon he would see that a belated growth spurt would play [and pay] to his advantage.
Davis was 6-foot-10 when he signed to play for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. His role changed in the SEC, but his value did not. Davis had established himself as an all-around athlete and it continues to show every night the Lakers take the court.
With the release of “The Last Dance” during a time of great uncertainty in our world, we are again reminded of the importance of development. In the early episodes of the documentary, both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are referenced as having a similar experience as Davis. Jordan underwent a huge growth spurt before his junior season and, with the extra inches, quickly established himself as a standout player. Pippen, the youngest of 12 children and the beneficiary of a late growth spurt, transitioned from the University of Central Arkansas team equipment manager to an NBA lottery pick in the span of just a few years.
All three of these Superstars benefited from late seasons of growing. But Height is all Hype unless the Technique has been Taught. As ambassadors of our great game, we must prepare all players for their moment, whether it comes as a collegiate scholarship, professional contract, or not. Coaches, too often, handcuff a player or a group of players strictly to fill the needs of their 10-, 11-, & 12-year old team rosters. The days of assigning roles & restrictions based on inherent traits (race, color, gender) are over. So too should be the notion that height should limit one’s growth.